Dream or mirage: can South Africa’s white-led opposition win in 2024? | Policy

by MMC
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Cape Town, South Africa – On April 1, John Steenhuisen was re-elected leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s largest opposition party, at a triennial congress in Midrand, just outside Johannesburg.

In his speech to 2,000 party members, he made clear the DA’s intention to wrest power from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the 2024 national elections and prevent any possible alliance with another rival , the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

“In the remaining months before next year’s elections, the DA will make it its number one priority… to prevent an ANC-EFF coalition,” Steenhuisen said in his speech.

Next year’s elections are seen as the most important since the dawn of democracy and the end of apartheid in 1994. Already, ANC loyalists fear that after three decades in power, the party will not garner the necessary 50 percent of the votes. necessary to stay in power.

Africa’s most industrialized country is struggling to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A third of the country is unemployed and crime rate have soared, favoring the rise in power xenophobic militias who blame immigrants. Rolling power cuts, or load shedding, are now commonplace for up to six hours a day.

Corruption scandals involving government officials have become commonplace. Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa forgiven his predecessor Jacob Zuma, who was jailed after refusing to testify about corruption and crony capitalism – known as state capture – during his term.

The ANC is also facing setback as its support base gradually erodes due to changing demographics. According to data from the Electoral Commission (IEC), there are around 27 million registered voters: around 10 million of them belong to the age groups of 18-29 and 30-39.

For voters in these age groups, the heroic status of Nelson Mandela, the iconic statesman and first president of post-apartheid South Africa, took a hit for his insistence on unity and not about justice.

All this has pushed the DA to try to overthrow the ruling party. Steenhuisen says the DA is the government in waiting and has a plan to clean up the country.

Still, the ANC’s deep grassroots support could make it difficult to defeat. Even without any merger, Ramaphosa and the EFF’s charismatic leader Julius Malema separately pose a monumental challenge to the DA’s incursions into rural and urban areas.


The race still counts

Born in 2000 after a merger of white minority parties, the DA describes itself as “largely centrist”. It governs the Western Cape – the country’s third-largest province which, in the first quarter of 2022, contributed 14% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) – and the city of Cape Town, the legislative capital, considered the best managed municipality.

The party hopes to build on this base to seize power at the national level in 2024. In Parliament, the ANC remains the majority party with 230 of the 400 seats available. The DA has 84 seats, the EFF has 44 and 11 other parties share the rest.

Steenhuisen, who has joined the DA since its inception, has been an MP since 2011. He served as interim leader of the party from November 2019, after serving as the DA’s chief whip in parliament for five years.

His supporters believe the 47-year-old is the man to lead the party to victory in the 2024 elections. The party’s leader for Gauteng province, Solly Msimanga, told Al Jazeera that Steenhuisen “will stabilize the dynamic of the party as we prepare for the 2024 elections.”

Analysts are divided on whether Steenhuisen’s DA can make a serious difference in next year’s elections.

“I think the DA presents itself as a bigger player than it really is, but at the same time it remains the largest opposition party and has a presence across the country,” the analyst said politician Daniel Silke.

Levy Ndou, a political analyst and professor of politics at the Tshwane University of Technology, said it was too early to say whether the party can indeed “defeat the ANC”.

Historically, the DA’s strongholds have been among the white population. The exodus of high-profile black leaders from the party over the past decade has also damaged its positioning as an inclusive institution in a multicultural nation like South Africa.

The party’s former leader, Mmusi Maimane, left the party in 2019, saying there was “disagreement over the vision and direction” of the party. Current Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille, previously elected mayor of Cape Town as part of her platform, resigned in 2018, stating that “when people abuse you, you have to go.”

However, DA leader in Gauteng, Solly Msimanga, dismissed what he called an “obsession”.

“Why is it when people leave the DA then it’s a black problem? Our plan is very clear: we want to build our own narrative and our own story, and we want to make sure that we are able to define our value proposition to the people of South Africa and that is what matters,” he said. he declared.

Nevertheless, race still plays a very important role in South Africa, where more than a third of the population lives in poverty while most of the wealth is controlled by the white minority.

Supporters of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party applaud during a rally ahead of the November 1 local elections in Cape Town, South Africa, October 29, 2021 (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

A numbers game

In South African politics, as in many other places, winning an election is also about numbers.

According to CEI figures, in 2019 the DA received 20.77 percent of the vote, a drop from 2014 when it received 22.23 percent of the vote, but an increase from 2009 when it received obtained more than 16 percent of the votes.

But support for the ruling party has also declined, from 62.15 percent in 2014 to 57.50 in 2019. In February, the ANC’s internal election report predicted support for the party would fall to 37 percent, now the DA at 27 percent and the EFF at 10 percent. .

Several private polls also weighed in. One, by market research organization Ipsos, shows that 43 percent of registered voters are likely to vote for the ANC, compared to just 20 percent for the DA.

Another poll released in early October by the Social Research Foundation think tank predicted the ANC would get 45 percent of the vote, while the DA would get 31 percent.

“It is a leap of faith for Steenhuisen to project himself as the next president since the DA is a 20-25 percent party, and I think we are looking at uncertain elections in 2024,” Silke said.

Meanwhile, analysts say the DA’s talk of a mooted alliance between the ANC and EFF is a narrative driven by the latter’s controversial pro-immigration stance and reallocation of land rights to sow discord. fear among the electorate.

The DA itself is seeking to form a coalition with many smaller parties, but its history of failed partnerships could hamper its progress in this regard.

In 2016, he led coalition governments in the major cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane in Gauteng and Nelson Mandela Metro in the Eastern Cape. Within three years, these coalitions collapsed and all DA mayors were removed from office. After the 2021 local elections, the DA again formed a coalition with smaller parties to rule Johannesburg, but again failed.

Given this history, analysts say the DA’s path to power remains complicated. The big question now, they add, is how many voters frustrated with other heavyweights and looking for a new political home can this attract into the fold?

Even the “born free” generation (those born after 1994) will prove difficult to convince, even if they are disenchanted with the ANC. Colby Adonis, 20, a first-time human resources student in Cape Town, is among those unimpressed with the DA, particularly its pro-Zionist stance.

“I think they have a direction for the country, but at the same time they are contradictory; they talk about one thing, then they do another,” he told Al Jazeera. “In terms of service delivery, they do a lot for the City of Cape Town and are very efficient, but I cannot vote for a party that supports what is happening in Israel; innocent children die.


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